After Diagnosis: Dropping a Mask or Seeking Excuses?

I didn’t end up writing anything for the second and third prompt in the 10-day writing challenge. I also skipped the Insecure Writer’s Support Group day yesterday. It wasn’t really that I felt unmotivated or uninspired, but I was busy doing other things.

For example, I read a post on Facebook by a Mom of a neurodivergent child asking the autistic community whether it was possible that the child could be faking autism. That had me thinking. The short answer is that it’s highly unlikely. It is much more likely that, upon learning you are or may be autistic, you drop the mask.

I was self-identified as autistic for some years before I was formally diagnosed. However, my parents and high school tutor shamed me out of seeking an official diagnosis, claiming I was a hypochondriac for believing I’m autistic. Never mind that hypochondriasis is as much a mental condition as is autism.

At the time of my official diagnosis, I was resisting it a bit. I was in college with a psychology major and I didn’t want a diagnosis to stand in the way of my completing the program. Never mind that I was already failing and a diagnosis in fact helped me get some accommodations.

Then after I was diagnosed with autism, I started dropping the mask. Some people, including my parents and staff at the time, thought I was using my diagnosis as an excuse. Well, I wasn’t. I was experiencing what eventually turned out to be extreme burnout.

To get back to the topic of “faking” autism, I won’t deny that a small percentage of people may want to fake a disability to get services or financial help they don’t need. Others might be encouraged by family or friends to “just” go on disability. At least, I know some people who say they experience this. However, with how strict the social security and care systems are here, it is highly unlikely that someone would be granted benefits or care based on just a diagnosis. After all, a diagnosis is just a label.

Besides, said child had already been diagnosed with a neurodivergent condition. More labels doesn’t necessarily mean more care. It can mean more self-knowledge. It did in my case at least.

For example, I’ve over the years been given at least ten different diagnoses. Some may be correct while others most likely aren’t. Exploring these conditions did give me more understanding of myself. Especially with autism, there is a very positive community surrounding it. That definitely helps me finally find my tribe.

Today’s prompt in the 10-day writing challenge was “After”. The idea of the challenge is to write for five minutes. This post took me much longer, but that’s okay too.

Today I Feel…

Today I feel pretty awful. Several of my day activities staff were off sick, so I got assigned a relatively new staff. This was hard enough. To make matters worse, I was pretty badly overloaded all day. I did try to relax in the sensory room, but really couldn’t find my calm.

In the evening, I started a Dutch blog again. It’s been the umpteenth time that I started one and I’m not feeling too optimistic about how long I’ll be able to keep it up. Then again, I did finally find a way to link to it from this blog, so that I don’t have to keep switching primary sites each time I comment on a Dutch blogger for them to see it. Of course other bloggers seeing your content shouldn’t be the point of blogging. At least, it wasn’t my point when I first started blogging. I didn’t care about my stats. But that was over thirteen years ago. Now, of course I do care.

I saw a post by a Dutch disability blogger. That blogger in fact inspired me to start a Dutch blog again. She was discussing the notion of “mild” forms of impairments. I generally hate that notion, even though I still often fall into the trap of judging people, including myself, by it.

For example, I am diagnosed with level 1 autism spectrum disorder and probably level 1 cerebral palsy too. Only my blindness can be seen as “severe”. Even so, it’s of course the combined effect of these disabilities that causes me to need the support I need. Thankfully, the long-term care fudning agency got that in my case eventually. It doesn’t get it in some other cases.

Like, a friend of mine shared a newspaper article a few weeks ago about an elderly man who was profoundly hearing impaired, nearly blind and hardly able to walk but still too “mild” for nursing home funding. This man ended up taking his own life. I was incredibly saddened by this and at the same time, it made me feel guilty. I’m trying to turn this guilt into gratitude though.

This post was partly inspired by the first prompt in a 10-day writing challenge I participate in. The prompt was “Today”.

Quote of the Day (February 19, 2020): Everyone Sees What You Appear to Be

“Everyone sees what you appear to be, few experience what you really are.” – Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince

When first starting this blog, I intended to do a daily quote of the day post. I never did. In fact, my “Quotes” category has only four posts. I do like quotes though, so when I figured I had nothing else to share, I decided to do a quote post again.

Today I checked out a sort of guided self-discovery journal called Happy to Meet Me. This quote was printed above the first prompt. The prompt was about common misconceptions about you. It asks you what you wish people would automatically see about you.

This is harder than I thought. After all, the prompt isn’t what you wish people didn’t immediately know about you. I mean, that would be easy. I wish people would see beyond my blindness. But then what would they see?

I think most people would see me as still somehow disabled if they didn’t see I’m blind. Like my sister said when I was a teen, I don’t appear like someone my age judging from even my way of walking. Of course, I have mild cerebral palsy, but the average Joe won’t have a clue. They’ll most likely think I’m intellectually disabled. Until I start to talk. Then most people will be baffled and start to assume my every way of being different is due to blindness again. After all, most people here are still pretty clueless about autism.

I don’t really know what I wish people would automatically know about me. I mean, back when I was still more serious about blogging, I knew that people had their blog name printed on T-shirts and I even for a fleeting moment considered getting one myself. I’m glad I never did, as honestly in the age of smartphones I don’t think I’d want people in the streets to be able to Google me without ever having met me. I mean, my blog is way too personal for that.

I can think of things I wish professionals would automatically know about me. I wish they understood the disconnect between my intellectual and emotional functioning. I can also think of things I wish friends would automatically know. I wish they’d know about my interests. But what would I want other people in general to know? I guess I’d start with the very basic: I am a human being just like you.

What do you wish people would automatically see about you?

Three Wishes

I’m trying to participate in 7 Days 7 Posts organized by Jessica from Daysixtyfive. That is, I won’t promise I’ll complete the challenge, as I’m having a nasty cold. Yes, again. I hope I don’t end up with a fever this time. That being said, if it doesn’t get worse than it is now, I’ll probably be able to do fine.

Today’s topic is about wishes. You have just been granted three wishes. What are they?

I initially thought that we’re supposed to have big, world-changing wishes like peace everywhere. Then I saw Jessica’s post and her first two wishes are just for herself and her family. Maybe we all are self-centered like this, so I don’t need to feel shameful about wishing stuff for just myself. Here goes.

1. Physical and mental wellbeing. I purposefully wish for wellbeing, not health, as the genie might interpret health to mean I want to get cured of my disabilities. I don’t. I want to remain blind and autistic and having mild cerebral palsy. I even don’t want to be cured of my dissociative disorder, in that I want to remain multiple. What I do want is to be is stable mentally, less anxious. I also want my chronic physical ailments to go away. And while we’re here, I wish this nasty cold away and not to return.

2. To be close to my husband. I would wish for a suited care facility in my husband’s area, so that I could visit him more often. A suited care facility would be much like the one I’m in now, with a day center on grounds, lots of sensory equipment, the staffing level for me to be able to enjoy regular leisure activities, etc.

3. Unlimited ParaTransit access. This was the first that came to mind after a care facility close by my husband. Bigger things like wellbeing hadn’t even come to mind yet. I could wish for an endless stream of money, so that I can hire my own taxi drivers, but I don’t think I’d feel any better then. However, the ability to travel wherever I want without having to worry about public transportation, is very high on my list of desires. Interestingly, for the cost it took to make all trains and buses wheelchair-accessible, the government could have made this a reality for all majorly disabled people.

What would you wish for if you were granted three wishes?

Nuts! #SoCS

I first heard about the details of the Care and Force Act in the Netherlands a few days ago through a fellow mental health advocate. I’d heard of the bill being passed before, but never quite understood or cared what it entailed. Now I know, from both her opposing side and thesupporting side, namely my own long-term care organization.

As it turns out, the Care and Force Act impacts everyone who receives mental health or developmental disabilities services, whether voluntarily or not. Before this law, only those committed involuntarily to a psychiatric hospital, psychogeriatric nursing home or intellectual disability facility, could be subjected to involuntary care. Now, basically everyone who receives (or, I assume, is supposed to receive) care for a mental illness or developmental disability, can be subjected to involuntary care. Yes, even if you live at home. Support staff are allowed by this law to enter someone’s home without their permission and hold them down there, force medications on them, install cameras for monitoring the client, etc.

This all sounds pretty nuts to me. Of course, that’s what said mental health advocate said too. My care facility says that forced care is not allowed unless… and then they go on to list the law’s reasons involuntary care is allowed. This is a long list, including obvious reasons such as self-harm or aggression, but also “endangerment of the person’s development”. Well, WTF?

I understand the well-meaning intentions behind the law. For example, a client with Prader-Willi Syndrome, which makes them eat and drink without inhibition, can be prevented from accessing sources of food or drink. The long-term care facility said in this case (in a flyer by my care organization) they’d decided to disable the client’s bathroom tap so that they cannot drink like 5 liters of water at night. However, quite possibly, this could be affecting people like me who suffer with compulsive overeating. I am sensible in that I try to ask for help in preventing binges, but I mean, I’ve heard clients being told not to enter the kitchen because they eat lots of cookies and are prediabetic. Well, this is physical health, which I understand on at least some level. But isn’t this whole bill meant to make us all conform to the non-disabled standards of “normalcy” whether we want to or not?

And besides, there are huge budget cuts to mental health and disability services, so will this bill not just be used to facilitate lower levels of actually helpful care?

For example, I could in a worst-case scenario be confined to my bed at night so that I have fewer reasons to bother the night staff when I go to bed later than most other clients. Or I could be banned from using Facebook or the Internet altogether during certain times of the day for reasons such as my needing to socialize more, study, or whatever. Like I said, danger to one’s development is a grounds for forced care.

In theory, the law doesn’t sound too bad, but I can imagine treatment providers such as the ones in the mental hospital, whom I couldn’t trust, can misuse this law for very harmful purposes. Does this mean anyone deemed nuts or dumb, to use some slurs, is at the mercy of the so-called helping profession? It’s crazy!

This post is written for #SoCS, for which the prompt this week is “Nuts”.

Why I Am in Long-Term Care

The day 1 prompt for this year’s 31-day writing challenge is “Why”. I immediately thought of the question that keeps popping up in my mind whenever I meet someone new at the care facility: Why am I in long-term care? Today, for example, I met a student doctor who was touring our home. I informed her midway through our conversation that I don’t have an intellectual disability, to which she replied that she could tell. Well, duh! Even when I’m overloaded, like I was at the time, and experiencing pretty bad language problems, I still sound like someone with at least an average IQ.

So why am I in long-term care? To a casual stranger, I could just point to my lack of sight and they’d be satisfied. Not a doctor or even a medical student, I guess. The medical advisor for the funding agency understandably concluded that blindness alone doesn’t warrant 24-hour care. Neither does mild cerebral palsy. And, as regular readers of this blog know, autism, being seen as a psychiatric condition, doesn’t count.

They finally found a way around this situation by saying that my disabilities are intertwined. They are, of course. In multiple disabilities, the whole is more than the sum of its parts. For this reason, the short answer to why I’m in long-term care is because I’m blind and autistic and have mild CP, not because I have any of these alone.

This is the legal answer. The way the funding agency found around the stupidly close-minded look at disabilities the law requires medical advisors to have. The long answer is, of course, that my individual care needs mean I need 24-hour proximity of care.

I have significant executive functioning issues. These cannot be objectified by tests because I’m blind and the tests of executive functioning that are available, are all visual. For this reason, the medical advisor wrongly concluded that I don’t have cognitive impairments. I don’t have an intellectual disability, but that’s not the same.

These executive functioning difficulties make it hard for me to take care of myself. I can do basic self-care activities with reminders and prompting, but then still I often mess up.

People, including my support staff, have used my blindness as an excuse for my difficulty with basic self-care. Of course I can’t see when my clothes are dirty, but if I were just blind, I would be able to prevent the most common causes of my clothes getting dirty. Like, I would be able to prevent myself from drooling over them, or I would be able to find other ways around it.

People also use my blindness as an excuse for my needing proximity of care. If I were just blind though, I would still struggle to know when staff had left the room, but I wouldn’t feel overwhelmed by it.

But I’m not just blind. Had I been just blind, I wouldn’t have needed to apply for long-term care. And yet, paradoxically, my care ground is blindness.

First Few Days in the Care Facility

So I haven’t written in nearly a week. I wanted to, but on Monday, was still adjusting to being in the care facility. On Tuesday, I felt really off. Then yesterday my husband and I traveled to our new house, the house we bought, and to the solicitor to sign the paperwork. That was somewhat of a hassle, as I cannot make a signature that looks remotely like the one on my passport. So for this reason, the solicitor had two coworkers sign in my place. Thankfully though, the thing is now finalized and we’re officially homeowners!

My adjustment to living in the care facility has been harder than I imagined. On Monday, I did pretty well. Tuesday I started day activities. It was a good day weather-wise, so I was able to enjoy some time outside.

Then tuesday night I suddenly was overcome with shame about my care needs. It all makes me so confused, since if I truly function emotionally at a 16-month-old level, I probbably shouldn’t be able to feel shame. And yet I do. My father’s voice is in my mind like all the freakin’ time. So is my former psychologist’s.

Yesterday, my husband came to pick me up for the official stuff at 11AM. We returned to the care facility at around 6:30. I did okay other than obviously missing my husband. I rationalized that away though. He told me he was a little disappointed in how far the journey is from our new house to here. There will no doubt be a solution, for example me traveling to our house by train and ParaTransit taxi. Still, the conversation did upset me.

I’m constantly facing this bit of cognitive dissonance between the parts of me that are severely disabled and truly function at a young child’s level and the parts that can be married and have a normal life. I can’t and don’t want to disown either, but it’s a huge challenge finding the middle ground.

Besides, even if I wanted to, I can’t go back to my life before moving here. The old day center has a pretty long waiting list and they’ve most likely filled up my place by now. I don’t have a room to myself in the new house. I can’t go back to community support funding from long-term care. Now of course if I truly could disown the severely disabled parts of myself, I might’ve been able to find a solution to at least the last of these problems. Long-term care funding is available to those who live at home too, after all. Maybe I just need to admit that I’m too darn selfish to actually choose my husband over proper care.

Losing Myself and Finding Myself (Reena’s Exploration Challenge #96)

I remember when and where I lost myself. My old self, that is. It was November 2, 2007 at 8:01PM when I stepped onto the bus at Balustrade bus stop in Apeldoorn. I had decided this was it.

I phoned my old support coordinator at the training home. I’d just been told to leave the home’s premises, because according to the on duty staff, I was making them take unwarranted responsibility for me. I had come there in distress and a housemate had offered for me to spend the night with her, so that we had time to find me a new place to stay in the morning.

I wasn’t homeless. That is, I had a roof over my head. In the Netherlands, the word that translates to “homeless” also refers to people who are wasting away in their residence. And I was.

At 8:01PM November 2, I phoned my old support coordinator to tell her I was going to kill myself. I was on the bus and the bus driver and fellow passengers heard me. They called the police and, after a long wait at the police station, I was admitted to the psychiatric hospital in the middle of the night.

At that point, my old self went away. I lost the self that went to college, had plans for working and lived independently.

I’m still not 100% sure who will replace her. When and where I’ll find myself. My new self, that is. I know my old self is gone. Even though I live semi-independently now, I do not have anything close to a “normal” life, whatever that may be. But that’s okay. I know I will ultimately find a new eqwuilibrium, when I’m in a living facility that suits me.

In September of 2006, I wrote a post in my online diary about the two different images I had of myself. One was “white”. This image represented a “normal” life. Living independently, going to university, finding a job, marrying, getting children and whatnot. The other image, the “black” one, represented my need for support. It wasn’t that I needed 24-hour care, but that I needed more than just the once-a-week visit from a support worker to read me my mail that’s normal for people who are just blind.

By April of 2007, I knew the “black” image was coming true, but I was seeing the colors in it. I eventually did live independently and go to college, but I would get sixteen hours of home support a week.

And then that image too died, on November 2. It was hard. I grieved. But I didn’t give up. Gradually, I started to see how colorful a life I can have if I accept care.

The care facilities I’m looking at moving into, couldn’t be closer to the “black” image of myself. They are 24-hour intensive support facilities. Yet I don’t see that life as bad. I see it was exactly as colorful and rich as, or even more so than the “normal” life I envisioned for myself.

I am joining in with Reena’s Exploration Challenge #96.

Progress in Finding Long-Term Care

It’s been exactly six weeks since I got approved for long-term care, so that we could finally start finding me a supported housing facility. Things are moving slowly but steadily. Today, let me share how we’re doing.

Immediately after we heard I was approved for long-term care funding, my support coordinator contacted the care consultant for my current care agency. She made sure to get the paperwork in order so that, while we’re waiting for supported housing, I can retain my current support. After all, community support through the local authority was immediately stopped. My support coordinator also contacted the care consultant for the living facility in Raalte, which is with my current care agency too.

When it turned out the process with that living facility would be slow-moving, I proposed to contact the two blindness agencies to explore the possibility of my living there. One of them responded immediately with an appointment for an intake interview. This is, unfortunately, the one with the facilities in the far north and south and west of the country. Of course, we are talking the Netherlands, not America. However, my husband isn’t happy to travel up to two hours each week to visit me. We agreed on a maximum distance of one hour. This agency has nothing within an hour’s driving distance. We did however request that they help us by recommending accommodations a future living facility could make for my blindness. They will come by to observe me at day activities next week.

The other blindness agency has my file, but they haven’t yet scheduled an appoitnment to meet me.

I went to have a look at the facility in Raalte last week. It was great. The staff/client ratio is 1:6 to even at times 1:4 during the day and there is an awake night staff. They also have tons of sensory supplies, including a sensory room, rocking lounger and a bathroom with a tub. I will hear more about whether the psychologist and physician for this facility find me a good fit soon.

Then today I heard about another facility. It is with a countrywide Christian care agency. It is in the city of Ede, which is about a 45-minute drive from my current home. The facility primarily serves elderly people with intellectual disabilities. I don’t know whether that would be a problem. It might be, as the other clients are probably a lot less mobile than I am. Clients only have a bedroom to themselves, but I don’t mind. The care consultant would send my file to the psychologist for this facility too and then I may come for a tour.

It all makes me feel a bit confused but overall excited too. I mean, I still feel off applying to live in intensive support living facilities, being that I now live semi-independently. Of course, my husband does all of the housework, but still. It’s hard to believe that people suddenly aren’t rejecting me, saying I misuse care and leaving me to my own resources.

Who Am I Right Now?: Exploring My Identities #AtoZChallenge

Welcome to day 23 in the #AtoZChallenge. I had a topic for my W post in mind for a few weeks, but then wasn’t sure whether to pick that one. I am doing so anyway. Today, I am exploring the things that make me me. My “identities” can, of course, refer to my alters too, but I covered that topic in my letter M post already. Today, I am exploring my different roles.

I am a daughter. My parents are still both alive. I was a granddaughter (and some would say I still am), though my last living grandparent died in 2018. I am a sister and an aunt-to-be, since my sister is 20 weeks pregnant.

I am a wife. I have been together with my husband nearly 11 years and married over seven. My husband is by far the most important person in my life. Through him, I am also a daughter-in-law and sister-in-law. My mother-in-law is the second most important person currently involved in my life.

I am a blogger. I’ve had one blog or another ever since 2007 and really have been an online writer since 2002. I am also an author, though I’ve had only one small piece published in an anthology. It makes me proud nonetheless.

I am an advocate. Though I don’t engage in as much activism as I used to about ten years ago, I still consider myself a disability, mental health and autistic rights advocate.

I am a believer. Though I subscribe to “something-ism”, it does help me to feel connected to a higher power.

I am mentally ill. I am autistic. I am blind. I am multiply-disabled. I am a benefits claimant. I am a service user at a day center for people with intellectual disabilities.

These last few identities may be the most defining of me when I tend to introduce myself. That’s why I listed them last here. I need to learn to focus on the others.